Long ball launch in summer league

Alicia Manning boxes out Shekinna Stricklen

The Women's Pilot Rocky Top League has been a launch contest this summer with three balls lofted from well behind the arc, led by the spectacular shots of Shekinna Stricklen, who with the help of the long ball from teammates Taber Spani and Tyler Powers, has her FCA team undefeated with a rematch likely looming with DeRoyal.

Fellowship of Christian Athletes, 4-0, prevailed 94-91 on Tuesday over DeRoyal, 3-1, which was without Glory Johnson, who is on vacation, and after halftime also missing Alicia Manning, who took a hard elbow to the left eye seconds before the first half ended. Manning was able to walk off the court on her own but opted to leave the gym to seek additional medical attention and is likely to need a few stitches to close the gash across her eyebrow.

The foul came from Carson-Newman's Mandy Mendenhall as Manning grabbed a loose ball rebound and went up for the layup. Manning immediately went down holding her hand to her head and came up bloody. She got a bandage from sideline medical personnel and then left with Lady Vol teammates who had played in the first game of the evening.

Manning was having her best offensive game of the summer league – her board play and defense had always been on display – with midrange jumpers and treys and had 13 points by halftime. With Manning ousted and Johnson away, DeRoyal relied on Dominique Redding, who had 24 points, but she couldn't counter the firepower of Shekinna Stricklen and Taber Spani, who had 29 and 28 points, respectively, for a combined 57 of FCA's 94 points.

Mendenhall, who had a knot on her elbow after the foul, added 13 points for FCA and Tyler Powers chipped in with 10, even scoring her first two-point bucket of the summer, as all her previous points had come from long range.

DeRoyal got 15 points from Jenna Ray and 10 points each from Jill Herman and Lundyn Howard.

The first game at Christian Academy of Knoxville featured Alyssia Brewer and Kamiko Williams' Smith & Hammaker team, which evened its record at 2-2 with a 90-72 defeat of Pilot, now also 2-2.

Meighan Simmons led Pilot with 28 points – fellow Lady Vol teammate Isabelle Harrison had summer school commitments and missed the game – while Kelsey Brown added 13 points, Shannon Depew chipped in with 11, and Jai Jai McLaughlin had 10.

Jessica Walter led Smith & Hammaker with 32 points on the strength of nine treys, while Williams tallied 22 and Brewer added 16, her best showing of the summer as she works her way back into shape.

First session of summer school ends this week for Tennessee, and Spani finishes her exams on Wednesday, so she will head home to Missouri for a month and miss the final two games of the league. Stricklen, who completed her exams Tuesday and will attend second session – which starts this Friday – before joining the USA team for the World University Games, said she intends to play both games this week and will try to stay undefeated.

Brewer also intends to enroll for the second session – in the past the Oklahoma native has slipped home in July, her only shot at any extended time with family – and will focus on rehab and conditioning.

Brewer was limited the past season because of Achilles tendon surgery on her left heel last August, and she needed a cleanup procedure after the season ended. She was just cleared to run two weeks ago and also has been bothered by a sinus infection, but she seemed visibly more comfortable on the court Tuesday.

Brewer has retrofitted her shoe by cutting a notch in the back so that the material doesn't rub against her heel. It was a source of amusement for Vicki Baugh, who watched the games Tuesday until Manning got hurt and then left with her Lady Vol teammate, as did Simmons, Williams and Brewer. Baugh opined that a better design was needed for Brewer's shoe than a gash and tape.

"We've got to figure out a way to make that look better," Baugh said.

Baugh did offer sympathy for a foot injury.

"You have to walk on that foot and the rehab is a lot different," Baugh said. "I think it's just as hard getting back on the court coming from an injury that's on your foot."

Baugh was finally smiling, as her surgically repaired left knee is finally feeling fine after two ACL surgeries and a third operation to address a meniscus tear. She opted not to play in the league to avoid injury risk but does play pickup on campus with her teammates and against guys, whose habits she is familiar with and feels comfortable with on the court.

"I wanted to be smart," Baugh said. "Our practice guys know how to play against us. Just my personal opinion is it helps get me back in better shape just knowing the player that I am. I prefer to play with guys to get back in better shape and our practice guys know how to play against us, when to let the foul go.

"I just felt a lot more comfortable and know that I will give 100 percent on the court scrimmaging against the guys."

Brewer reiterated Tuesday that she wanted to play last season and didn't want to take a redshirt year, despite her truncated year.

"It wasn't an easy decision for me," Brewer said. "I definitely did the pros and cons. It was something I went with my heart on it."

She did acknowledge that the prolonged nature of the injury and recovery was frustrating.

"Definitely," Brewer said. "I think Vick probably understands more than anybody the frustration of that. Mine wasn't to the extent of hers but just being able to see a glimpse of what she had to go through it's definitely hard to do."

With Brewer about to embark on her senior year she decided to stay put in Knoxville to work on her game and have an extra month of time with Heather Mason, the strength and conditioning coach.

"It's the most important summer I'm going to have here, and that's why I decided to stay second session so that I can work out and I can rehab so that I can get as close to 100 percent for the upcoming season," Brewer said. "I want to be able to do things that I did my sophomore year plus."

Brewer was the SEC Sixth Woman of the Year after her sophomore season and also earned conference tourney MVP honors in 2010.

"I am putting higher expectations on myself because you don't want to set your standards on something you did in the past," Brewer said. "You want to do something better and accomplish something more than what you've already done. You want to do it better.

"Push my body to the ultimate limit and see where it takes me from there. Getting in the gym and doing whatever the team asks me, whether it's scoring, passing, rebounding, defense."

With the exit of center Kelley Cain because of chronic hip and knee pain – Cain laughed Tuesday and said her summer league career was over, too, after how much she hurt last week after one game – the low post presence of Brewer and Baugh is vital.

"That is something that is in the hands of me and Vicki to be able to establish the low post this year, and take it upon ourselves and carry that burden for our team," Brewer said.

It should be a much easier burden for Baugh to bear, as she finally feels what Jenny Moshak told her would happen this summer – she would feel healed.

"I finally believe her," Baugh said. "She said it will all come with rest and time and that is what I did. That is what I did in May. I got two-and-a-half weeks of straight rest, so I think that helped."

Baugh also will stay for second session as she has already started coursework in her master's degree – she graduated with her senior class last May – and intends to leave Tennessee next May with an advanced degree. Baugh got a bachelor's in psychology with a minor in sports communication and will earn a master's in sports psychology.

The last game of the evening featured two teams trying to get their first win in the league. Duncan Automotive, led by Faith Dupree's 23 points, is now 1-3 after defeating the News Sentinel, 0-4, by a score of 91-75. Casie Cowan tallied 19 points for Duncan while Taylor Mills added 17.

The News Sentinel was without Webb standout Marjorie Butler, who is playing at AAU Nationals this week, but former Lady Vol Courtney McDaniel made it to her first game – she has been busy coaching her AAU team – and had four points and was a presence on defense with blocked shots but said after the game she has been off the playing court for months. Blount County native Karly Stache led the way with 20 points.

Manning was expected to be able to return this week for DeRoyal, and Stricklen's goal is to finish the week undefeated for FCA.

"I think our team plays the best team ball," Stricklen said. "I think we move the ball really well."

In the game of unbeatens, Stricklen fired a pinpoint pass to a cutting Spani, who let it go off her hands, much to her frustration.

"I was thinking, ‘Am I going to reverse it or go in this side,' and the ball went right through my hands," Spani said.

"I think we read each other pretty well," Stricklen said.

Stricklen and Spani have been impressed with Powers, the high schooler from Lenoir City who has a somewhat unorthodox form – she shoots the ball slightly out to the side at times – but the ball settles through the net.

"That first game when we made that comeback and she hit five or six threes in a row, we like it," Stricklen said.

Play resumes Wednesday beginning at 6 p.m. with Pilot vs. FCA, followed by the News Sentinel vs. Smith & Hammaker and DeRoyal vs. Duncan Automotive.

VIDEO COVERAGE

Game One: Smith & Hammaker vs. Pilot

Alyssia Brewer and Vicki Baugh

Game Two: DeRoyal vs. Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Shekinna Stricklen and Taber Spani

Game Three: Duncan Automotive vs. The News Sentinel

Courtney McDaniel

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